- Buy the DVD
Reviewed by Ross Ruediger
he U.K. title of this set was “K-9 Tales,” a label that was dropped for the U.S. release - probably wisely since the tin dog isn’t nearly as well known over here. It features two K-9 stories, the first being “The Invisible Enemy,” which marked the initial appearance of the Doctor’s dog-shaped computer back in ‘77. K-9 was allegedly the “Doctor Who” answer to the immense popularity of “Star Wars.” Perhaps the goal was to fuse the goofy cuteness of R2-D2 with the pompous intelligence of C-3PO - a cross that resulted in an obnoxious little peckerhead.
Nevertheless, the kids loved him and he stayed on the show for nearly four seasons. He then snagged a spin-off, resurfaced in “The Five Doctors,” resurfaced again in the new series, made some cameos in “The Sarah Jane Adventures,” and finally has yet another spin-off series in the works (albeit with a much needed visual overhaul). It’s amazing the longevity this one-note gag has had -- or perhaps not. After all, a movie about a cute robot was one of the biggest hits of the summer.
It’s ironic that “Star Wars” was the inspiration for K-9, because the biggest problems with “The Invisible Enemy” are the opposite of everything “Star Wars” got right. The effects work is atrocious, the costumes and makeup are terrible, the pacing is dreadful, and the acting veers from bored to wooden to hammy, which is saying something when the great character actor Michael Sheard is involved. Sheard played Admiral Ozzel in “The Empire Strikes Back,” Hitler in “Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade,” and six different characters on “Who” over the years. He makes a go of it here, but still pales compared to his other work. The only thing that’s really any good about “The Invisible Enemy” is the script, or at least the general idea, anyway. If you look really hard, you can almost see an entertaining “Who” ride, if not for all the missteps. That’s the key -- if you give this a shot, you’ve got to work to get anything out of it.
It’s the year 5000, and humanity’s spreading out across the solar system. An intelligent virus infects a crew headed for Titan, the largest moon of Saturn. They send a distress call that the Doctor (Tom Baker) answers, only to end up infected himself. With his savage companion Leela (Louise Jameson), he travels to a nearby medical station and seeks the help of Professor Marius (Frederick Jaeger, who, compared to his work in “Planet of Evil,” totally phones in his performance) and his trusty robot dog, K-9 (voiced by John Leeson). The virus, now known as the Nucleus, grows in strength and takes over one person after another, and the Doctor finds himself slowly succumbing to it as well. Leela remains immune as the Nucleus views her simplistic nature as “unfit.” The Doctor pulls a “Fantastic Voyage” by having Marius clone him and Leela, and then miniaturize the clones and inject them into the Doctor. The whole affair gets pretty trippy in Episode Three, which takes place almost entirely inside the Doctor’s head. Surprisingly it’s the one episode that works fairly well, and the effects and design are credible (by late ‘70s “Who” standards, anyway).
But in Episode Four the whole thing unravels when the Nucleus grows to human size, and looks like a giant, unconvincing shrimp. Good lord it’s bad -- and when such a major element fails on every level, well, there’s just no rescue. Not even via the presence of a tin dog, who may well be one of the best parts of “The Invisible Enemy.” Well, that and Louise Jameson in her animal skins. Any story with Leela is worth watching for reasons that only eunuchs wouldn’t understand. That was sexist. Aside from Jameson’s raw hotness, the character is never about being hot. Leela is ignorance and instinct, and her time spent with the Doctor is about learning and loyalty. Leela’s an iconic figure because she’s unique in the “Who” companion pantheon; and because she’s hot and wears animal skins.
The other story in this set is the spin-off episode “K-9 and Company,” subtitled “A Girl’s Best Friend.” It’s 45 minutes long and was made in 1981, and the concept failed to move past this entry, until the new series came along, reintroducing both Sarah Jane Smith (Elisabeth Sladen) and K-9. Now both characters are tied together, mostly because of this one-off. It tells the story of Sarah Jane receiving a gift from the Doctor: K-9 Mark III. Together they investigate a possible coven of witches -- which maybe sounds cooler than it is onscreen. Do not expect this to be as tight as any given story of “The Sarah Jane Adventures,” although this was clearly an influence on that series. For me the highlight is seeing Sean Chapman in an early role; he’s best known as Frank Cotton in the first two “Hellraiser” movies. (When my love of “Hellraiser” supercedes my love of “Who,” something’s amiss.) As much as I’d like to rationalize otherwise, this set is for completists only.
Special Features: Well there’s certainly no shortage of bonus material, so even if the stories are subpar, there are plenty of additional goodies for the hardcore fan. This is one of those stories that offer up optional CGI effects, and while they’re a nice addition, this is one of the only instances that they do little to help. There are audio commentaries for both stories, featuring John Leeson with Jameson and Sladen on their respective tales, and a host of other participants as well. It’s a shame Tom Baker isn’t on “Enemy” as I’ve yet to hear him and Jameson do a commentary together. (There are still numerous stories from their time together that have yet to be released, so hopefully that will change.) Disc One features “Dreams and Fantasy,” a making-of doc for “Enemy,” and “Studio Sweepings,” which is a look behind the scenes of the story. There’s a piece on the visual effects (oddly) and a “Blue Peter” segment, as well as an Easter Egg. Disc Two has a making-of called “The K-9 Files,” an interview with Leeson, a segment from “Pebble Mill at One” and all the other usual bells and whistles found on “Who” discs.